Changsha meet signals fusion of Sagarmala and China’s Maritime Silk Road

After India’s move to rapidly develop ports, especially along east coast, and Beijing’s renewed focus on harbours’ expansion

Updated - December 04, 2016 10:34 pm IST

Published - December 04, 2016 03:06 pm IST - CHANGSHA (CENTRAL CHINA):

Indian and Chinese officials inaugurate the liaison office of the China India Business Council at Changsha in Hunan Province of China.

Indian and Chinese officials inaugurate the liaison office of the China India Business Council at Changsha in Hunan Province of China.

India’s decision to rapidly develop ports, especially along the east coast, and China’s renewed focus on an expansion of its harbours are resulting in an unintended fusion of the Sagarmala initiative, and Beijing’s Maritime Silk Road (MSR).

The ports of Krishnapatnam and Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh as well as the Colachel Port in Tamil Nadu are among the new hubs of coastal development, linked with the Sagarmala inititiative — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project of having a string of world class ports, enmeshed with well-connected industrial clusters in the hinterland.

“In a way Sagarmala follows the same model pursued by China, where the coastal centres of the Shenzhen, Shanghai and Guangzhou became engines for opening up a vast hinterland,” says Jithendra Nimmagadda, Chief Operating Officer of Krishnapatnam Port, in a conversation with The Hindu . Mr. Nimmagadda was in Changsha, to persuade Chinese businessmen about the Krishnapatnam port as a pivot for promoting India-China trade and investment ties. The conference was co-hosted by the Indian Consulate General in Guangzhou and the local branch of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT).

Brainstorming session

A feisty brainstorming session that followed, where down-to-earth Chinese entrepreneurs keen to cement a footprint in India probed for distilled practical information, ended with the establishment of a Liaison Office of the China India Business Council (CIBC). The organisation though formed in 1985 to promote Sino-Indian business ties had gone into deep hibernation. But Chinese officials of Hunan province, of which Changsha is the capital, are now upbeat that the new Liaison office can help revive the apex CIBC. “It would be an interesting idea to now visit Beijing to awaken the CIBC,” observes Deng Luo Xing, a senior CCPIT official based in Changsha.

Unlike India, China is now at the cusp of a second cycle of port-led growth as part of the MSR. An inter-ministerial document on the Belt and Road, which includes both the land and maritime wings of a massive connectivity plan spanning Asia, Europe and Africa, earmarks some of the lesser known ports for major expansion. Apart from Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the document lists Zhanjiang, Qingdao, Yantai and Dalian, among the shore-based gateways that are set for a serious facelift.

Significantly, the Chinese list docks well with some of the harbours, including Krishnapatnam, which fall within the Sagarmala blueprint.

Direct connectivity with 4 ports

“The Maersk shipping line has direct connectivity with four ports in China: Shanghai, Qingdao, Zhanjiang, and Nansha. These four ports are directly connected to Krishnapatnam port on a weekly basis,” observed Mr. Nimmagadda.

The growing maritime ties between India and China are adding a new dimension to New Delhi’s Act East Policy of actively engaging countries along, and beyond, the Bay of Bengal. A paper on Andhra Pradesh port policy by the National Maritime Foundation lauds the State for its capacity to “see merit in Centre’s Sagarmala vision; and opportunities in foreign policy initiatives like Act East Policy”.

Though not on the coastline, its integration in a nation-wide rail and road network positions Changsha prominently as one of the pivots of both the MSR, as well as the New Silk Road land corridor, which extends westwards into Central Asia and Europe. The city has high speed rail connectivity with the ports of Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen and Hong Kong. It is also the starting point of trains heading out to Duisburg in Germany — a distance of around 11000 kilometres — along the Eurasian land corridor.

A big draw for India

From the perspective of India, impatient to modernise its archaic railway system, Hunan’s status as the manufacturer of both high-speed and Maglev trains has been a big draw.

“I am extremely happy to note that CRH — the company that manufactures high speed trains is seriously looking at the Indian market for cooperation,” observes Silas Thangal, India’s consul-general based in Guangzhou at the seminar.

Buddhism route

Officials in Changsha are also keen to revive cultural ties, with Buddhism — the shared heritage of India and China — as the foundation. “We should be looking at developing the Buddhist circuit with India as our natural partner to add a strong cultural dimension to our growing ties,” says He Jian, chairman of CCPIT in Hunan. The proposal is echoed by Li Yi Yu, a professor at the Public Management School of Xiangtan University. “Reviving cultural linkages should be a very creative exercise for in Hunan, Buddhism is uniquely combined with elements of Confucius thought and Taoism,” she observes.

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